ATHENS — Georgia coach Kirby Smart is looking for more leaders like outside linebacker Azeez Ojulari, who was named one of seven semifinalists for the FWAA Freshman of the Year Award on Monday.
Ojulari, a redshirt freshman from Marietta, led the Bulldogs with an eye-popping 36 QB pressures and was also the team leader with 4 1/2 sacks.
“He’s played well, he’s one of the hardest workers,” Georgia coach Kirby Smart said earlier this season. “He’s kind of the leader of that outside linebackers group, he never says a dang word, he’s just a great kid.”
It was at this time last year that Smart shared how Ojulari, who missed most all of the season coming off ACL surgery (Dec. 15, 2017), was standing out in Sugar Bowl practices.
The No. 5-ranked Bulldogs are getting ready for this year’s Sugar Bowl against Baylor and surely hoping more players like Ojulari emerge.
Ojulari was critical to UGA’s defensive success this season.
It was a Georgia defense that led the SEC in total defense, rushing defense, scoring defense and ranked among the Top 15 in the nation in pass efficiency defense.
Ojulari produced a tone-setting sack in the first quarter of the Bulldogs’ pivotal 24-17 win over Florida, a victory that paved the way for Georgia’s third-straight SEC East Division title.
— GEORGIA HEROES (@GeorgiaHeroes) November 2, 2019
The 6-foot-3, 240-pound Ojulari became the first freshman of the Smart Era to be named a team captain earlier in the season, taking the coin toss at midfield of Neyland Stadium for the Bulldogs’ 43-14 victory over Tennessee.
Ojulari recorded two sacks and 10 QB hurries in the blowout victory over the Vols.
Azeez Ojulari @_Azeez_8 with the SACK!!!!!!!
— GEORGIA HEROES (@GeorgiaHeroes) October 6, 2019
— GEORGIA HEROES (@GeorgiaHeroes) October 6, 2019
“Azeez is a great leader for this team, he was a captain for this game,” Smart said. “To do that as a redshirt freshman …. is pretty special. He leads in practice, he plays the right way, he’s everything you want in a student athlete.
“It’s a credit to his family. They did a great job with him.”
The other finalists for the FWAA Shaun Alexander Freshman of the Year Award:
• Sam Howell, University of North Carolina, Quarterback — Howell finished the regular season with 3,347 passing yards, 35 touchdowns, and just 7 interceptions. His 35 passing touchdowns rank fourth in FBS this season, and he broke the previous single-season record at North Carolina set by Mitchell Trubisky in 2016 (30). He also surpassed Trevor Lawrence’s 30 passing touchdowns from last season, giving him the most passing touchdowns by a true freshman in FBS history. Howell has been named the ACC’s Offensive Rookie and overall Rookie of the Year, as he led the conference in passing yards and touchdowns.
• Gregory Rousseau, University of Miami, Defensive Lineman, Redshirt — Rousseau was named the ACC’s Defensive Rookie of the Year. He recorded 18 tackles for loss and 14 sacks throughout the 2019 campaign. Rousseau’s 14 sacks are tied for second in FBS this season, trailing only Ohio State’s Chase Young. It was also the fourth-most sacks in a single season in Miami football history, and the most by a freshman. He recorded four sacks against rival Florida State on November 2, a game the Hurricanes won 27-10.
• Kedon Slovis, University of Southern California, Quarterback — Slovis was named the Pac-12’s Offensive Freshman of the Year. He finished the regular season ranked fourth nationally in completion percentage (71.8) and eighth nationally in yards per game (294.7). His 515-yard performance against rival UCLA made him the first USC quarterback to throw for 500+ yards in a single game, and his current streak of three consecutive games with 400+ passing yards is a school record.
• Derek Stingley Jr., Louisiana State University, Defensive Back — Stingley led all freshmen with six interceptions this season, including two against Georgia in the SEC Championship Game. He was named the Freshman of the Year by Pro Football Focus. Born and raised in Baton Rouge, La., Stingley has helped his hometown team to a 13-0 record and No. 1 seed in the College Football Playoff.
• Kenneth Gainwell, University of Memphis, Running Back, Redshirt — Gainwell was named the American Athletic Conference’s Rookie of the Year for his performance this season. His 1,425 rushing yards rank first among freshmen and eighth nationally. He has amassed 1,957 yards from scrimmage, which also ranks first among freshmen and fourth nationally. Gainwell recorded 200+ yards from scrimmage in three consecutive games against Louisiana-Monroe (251), Temple (204), and Tulane (307). His efforts helped Memphis claim a New Year’s Six bowl berth, their first in school history.
• Jayden Daniels, Arizona State University, Quarterback — Daniels compiled 2,748 passing yards, 17 passing touchdowns, and just two interceptions this season. His 8.9 yards per attempt ranks 13th nationally. He also added 319 rushing yards and three rushing touchdowns. Daniels threw for a season-high 408 yards, three touchdowns, and zero interceptions in a victory over then-No. 6 Oregon on 11/23.
The three finalists will be named after Jan. 1.
The FWAA Freshman All-American team and player of the year will be named in New Orleans the morning of the CFP Championship Game at the annual FWAA Awards Breakfast.